In 2015, Mike Rothman (CEO), 35, with co-founder Simon Isaacs, took Fatherly, a digital lifestyle guide for men entering parenthood, from concept to over 2M monthly UVs, 125K active email subscribers, a Webby-nomination and a rapidly expanding client portfolio that includes Spotify, Johnson & Johnson, Progressive Insurance, Paramount and Plum Organics. Rothman, who was one of the first employees at Thrillist Media Group, was originally turned down by over 100 venture capitalists, all of whom thought that “no one wanted to read a bunch of corny dad sh*t”. Since its launch, Fatherly has transformed perception about what parenting content aimed at men can look like. The site launched last year with $2 million in seed funding led by Soft Tech.
Simon Isaacs: Chief Content Officer and Co-Founder, Fatherly
Led by Chief Content Officer Simon Isaacs, 35, Fatherly has produced industry-defining content such as the State of the Imagination Report, in which 5 year olds across the country weigh in on what they want to be when they grow up and the 50 Best Places To Work For New Dads in conjunction with Wharton.
How did you get into the industry?
SI: When my wife signed-up for the requisite pregnancy and parenting newsletters, I did as well. Amid the slew of welcome emails talking about "my bump," it became obvious that there are few resources focused on dads. And yet, at the same time, data began to pour out on the massive shifts taking place at home and work and the “rise of dad” as a decision maker and caretaker. I became obsessed with the idea of creating a resource for Fatherly. After meeting my business partner Mike, we tested the concept and knew we were on to something.
MR: So I’ve been a big brother for 15 years through the Big Brother Big Sisters program. As a result all of that work, I became interested in what all of the adult males, the mentors, the fathers for a lot of these kids were doing that these kids had to be in this program in the first place. I also co-chair the board at Career Gear, which is like a Dress for Success for guys in prison, poverty, substance abuse and have had a really terrific experience with a whole bunch of adult mentees in the program.
So between the professional experience of marketing to young, affluent single men and the nonprofessional experience of working with folks who weren’t as lucky, I realized that “You know what? Kind of all these signs point in one direction and that’s helping men succeed.” And as I look down the barrel of the next 10 years of my life, I realize that this idea of parenthood is something that’s probably going to be a little bit less than abstract sooner rather than later. And what’s more important than raising healthy, smart, well-adjusted kids? Hence, Fatherly.
Any emerging industry trends?
MR: In recent years, there’s been an emergence of real media businesses that focus less on growth at all costs and more on the basics: identifying clearly defined audiences, serving them content that provides real value to their life and brokering relationships with marketers who want to respectfully communicate with that audience whose attention and trust that publisher has worked hard to build. This used to be called media but in a saturated environment it may be easier to distinguish this new, chastened publishers as vertical media.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
MR: I was told repeatedly that the parenting market, particularly one nominally aimed at dads was too small or that there must be something wrong with the space, because the idea for Fatherly was so obvious or else why hadn’t anyone done this before? Thus the new parent market was either a whitespace or a graveyard. I had the same concerns initially and had we not put together a working prototype, and truly believed that what we’re doing had merit and could be a big business, I wouldn’t have had the conviction to push back and say “no you idiots, this thing has merit and is going to work.”
Inspiration for Fatherly, and your vision for it?
SI: The internet is full of parenting advice for moms and through Fatherly, for the first time, we are providing dads with the content, tools and community he is looking for. Every day, we get the most humbling notes from our community thanking us for our content and support. As we move into our second year, our audience wants us to deliver Fatherly content and timely information and products in a more predictive and personalized way.
What's next for Fatherly in the near future?
MR: From a product perspective, we plan on developing more content products, tools that are focused more on guys or parents with kids that are older the age five. We’re also exploring more investigative reporting features and developing a commerce product. Right now, we have affiliate commerce throughout the site. We plan on using that we data that we get from our affiliate commerce partners to figure out what types of products are most popular, what price point, what manufacturers resonate best to inform our ultimate strategy.
Your key initiatives for the success of Fatherly?
SI: There are millions of mom-blogs and parenting sites, books and networks that are focused on the needs and experiences of moms. The largest point of differentiation is our focus is 100% on the needs of the dad and focus on areas where men play an active role in the family decision making as well as men’s lifestyle topics filtered through the prism of fatherhood. Fatherly is a truly unique lifestyle guide for guys to get content and valuable information on these and other new areas that he is engaged in, that he can actually relate to.
MR: We believe in all of the brands we partner with and our team is genuine fans of our client’s products. That comes across in the writing and in the type of experts we’re able to recruit to make our branded content just as valuable and enlightening as our editorial products.
Your most difficult moment at Fatherly? (and what did you learn?)
SI: My daughter was born one month prior to the public launch of our website, so in many respects, I had two startups (or two babies), each requiring countless hours, each demanding sacrifices and each with steep learning curves. But I survived, or I should say, we survived, because my greatest learning in all of this is the value of the team. My ability to show-up for my company was made possible by my wife (who also owns her own company) and our nanny. Conversely, my ability to show up at home was made possible by my team at Fatherly. This experience also revealed how privileged I am. The vast majority of parents work in businesses with far less flexibility not to mention the option for childcare. As hard as I had it, far too many have it far harder.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
SI: There are so many different topics that are relevant to parents with kids of different ages. With Fatherly, we wanted to take the developmental milestones and couch it in language and stories that are more conversational and that are what Dads are really looking for. For example, if it’s week 28 during pregnancy and the milestone is that your kid can hear sound for the first time, rather than giving you eight paragraphs about what’s going on gestationally, which you could find in a million other destinations, we talk to C.J. Ramone from the Ramones to riff on the topic. What should be the first music that your kid hears in the world?
How do you motivate others?
MR: If you’re lucky to hire smart people who care about your company’s mission, the best thing you can do to retain and develop talent is to make sure they’re learning every single day, whether it happens inside your company or elsewhere. Be proactive in broadening their perspective and building their network to the extent that those opportunities don’t naturally exist within your small and growing company.
Once you’ve attracted the right talent, it helps to wear your heart on your sleeve, celebrate every victory and be quick with feedback, especially early in the company’s development, when you’re basically running on enthusiasm and you may not have the comfort of a business-as-usual operating environment. In the first year of a business, you’re playing jazz more than conducting a crisp symphony and jazz ain’t jazz without heart and soul.
Career advice to those in your industry?
SI: Media is one of the toughest industries I’ve ever worked in. We are building a brand article by article and it is easy to overextend yourself and burn out. You have to create and stick to rules, whether that is leaving at 5 to give your child a bath and put them to bed or turning off at a certain time each night. Set clear boundaries and communicate their importance to your team and most importantly, to yourself. If you do that, you can survive.
MR: When you’re in an industry like digital media, at a time when the rules are being invented every day and there are fewer guideposts than ever before, you have no choice but to get out of the office as much as possible, talk to everyone in the industry, regularly gather intelligence, trade tactics and establish benchmarks because everything is relative.